National Down Syndrome Awareness Week

Honourable senators, today is the first day of National Down Syndrome Awareness Week, a public awareness campaign organized by the Canadian Down Syndrome Society. Under the slogan “See the Ability,” the campaign shines a light on the strengths and abilities of people with Down syndrome and aims to support community and national programs that ensure that they are treated as equal members of Canadian society.

As most senators know, a wonderful man named Michael works for me one day a week. He has Down syndrome and is a graduate of the Friends of the Senate Program. You have probably seen him here many days. It is a pleasure to have Michael on our team. He is enthusiastic about his work, and he brings warmth and humour to our office atmosphere. We value him and the contribution that he makes to our work experience and our lives.

On a personal note, we had a Down syndrome child who did not quite make it to the age of one. He would be 44 years of age. Timothy James Alexander Munson was and still is an inspiration in our lives and the reason that I work in the fields of the Special Olympics and autism. It is hard to believe that 44 years have gone by.

Down syndrome is a natural occurrence. It has always existed and is universal across racial, gender and socio-economic lines. One in 800 Canadian children is born with Down syndrome and no one knows why — but they are special. Thankfully, how our society treats and regards people with Down syndrome has improved dramatically over the years. This is, in large part, thanks to organizations and individuals driven by the belief that all people deserve opportunities and respect. They value diversity. Look at some of the information resources developed by the Down Syndrome Society, factual, helpful publications with a tone and photographs presenting people with Down syndrome in simple, natural situations with their parents, studying, working, getting married. There is one in particular titled Celebrate Being, which I believe says all that needs to be said.

Honourable senators, I hope that you will join me in commemorating National Down Syndrome Awareness Week. Your thoughts, your reflection and your support will certainly be well placed.